Birds Of A Feather

By and for Bird-People

Flying Lions and Scavenging Vultures


This is a summary of Nick Greaves’ account of the Hottentot tale “When Lion Could Fly (and Why Vulture Scavenges)”. You can read the full version and more stories in his nicely illustrated book “When Lion Could Fly – and other tales from Africa”. Each tale comes with a Facts page about the animals involved, and from the info shared this one may refer to the White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), a close parent to the European Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus).

White-backed Vulture

By Mark Robinson from Williton, UK (Not a Common Visitor to Somerset), via Wikimedia Commons.

This tale explains how in the beginning Lion had the gift of flight, which he had acquired through magical means. He kept his bundle of magical treasures hidden in a great graveyard made of the bones of his kills. He used his reputation as a fearsome hunter to enslave the Vultures so they guard the place against intruders, because he feared that animals would scatter the bones and discover his secret.

One day though, the Bullfrog rebelled against the Lion’s authority and leaped into the boneyard.

The Vultures were beside themselves with fear. What would Lion do to them when he saw what was left of his bone display? As they looked dismally over the wreckage, they spotted Lion’s magic bundle. The Vultures opened it and ate up all the contents. To their immense relief, they now had the power of flight. To escape from Lion’s wrath, they soared up into the heavens.

Nick Greaves – When Lion Could Fly

When Lion realized he could no longer fly to swoop down on his preys, he got back to his lair full of rage, and saw the Vultures circling above. They told him of Bullfrog’s actions, and as they wouldn’t come down, Lion decided unleash his wrath upon Bullfrog instead. He did not succeed in catching him though, as he leapt out of reach whenever Lion would get close. Lion eventually gave up his chase, and have been hunting his meal like other earthbound animals ever since.

But Vulture still fears Lion, and only comes to Earth to scavenge carrion when Lion has had his fill.

Nick Greaves – When Lion Could Fly

Other tales from this book include “Why Guinea Fowl Calls at Dawn (and Why Flies Buzz)”, “Honeyguide’s Revenge”, and “The Birds’ Great Race”.

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